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Scott Yates year-end wrapup

A quick post with some odds and ends for an end to an odd year...

  • With Steve Maxwell, I finished writing the manuscript for The Future of Water, which will be published in the Spring by the American Water Works Association. Look for much more on that here, and let me know if you want to come to the party!
  • I'm a huge fan of Brad Feld. He's a hugely successful founder, and now investor. I've been a successful founder, but haven't yet got to start investing in other companies. Someday soon, I hope. He often blogs about all the books he reads, and now he's teaching himself a programming language. Sometimes I wonder how he does it all, and then I remember that in addition to just being smart, he doesn't have kids. That difference became stark for me because right while he's learning Python, I'm learning a programming language, too. It's just that I'm learning NXT, the language that programs the LEGO Mindstorms robots.
  • The robot was a gift from my son, who asked me a day later if he could have the robot if I died. I wasn't sure how I should respond to that. Anyway, if I die in some suspicious way, make sure my son has a rock-solid alibi.
  • I had a rough go of it getting the software working, and had my first rotten experience with Lego. Turns out I had a bad disc and the software isn't available online (I know, right!?!?) so I took just the disc to the store to swap it. They told me I needed to come back with the whole set. So I schlep out there a second time with the whole set, and they give me -- you guessed it -- just the disc. Anyway, if you have any hints about learning that NXT language, let me know.
  • One last note related to my son... He's been enjoying his club house most of this winter. Only now, when it's below 10 degrees outside, is it too cold. It doesn't have a front door, so, we'll probably head over to the best place in Denver for used doors, Bud's Warehouse. If you haven't been to Bud's you should check it out. Amazing place, a great story, and one of the true gems of Denver.
  • Second Saturday Science, my attempt to have a fun activity for the family with some learning thrown in, is still on ice. It was lots of fun, and the gang at the Wash Park Whole Foods was very helpful, but I just ran out of time. If you have questions or interest in that, just let me know. The funniest thing about doing that for me was this: Friends of mine could never keep straight what Saturday of the month we had the event. The lesson I learned is that even if you put a message in the very name of your venture, the message may not get through.
  • I'll be waiting once again for the Denver Public Schools calendar for next school year to get approved by the board. Until then, the current calendar has all the weird and wacky days off provided in a format that is useable. This is the No. 1 way that people find this blog through Google: looking for the DPS calendar.
  • I've started doing some consulting and training about writing through the Murawski Group. It's been a real honor to work with this group, especially the namesake Tom Murawski. Tom's been improving writing for thousands of people all over the world for years now, but he still delights in clear writing. I'm proud of my small part in encouraging Tom to enter a poetry contest put on by the National Punctuation Day website, and he won! Here's his delicious haiku:

Time to eat Grandma!
Save her with a comma, or
She's yours to savor.

  • One last note: With my longtime collaborator Wade Green, I'm exploring a business that will help small businesses create the blog content that they need in this Googly world. If you have, or know of, a small business that has a blog and would be willing to let us run some tests, contact me directly. Thanks.

If you are a friend, and somehow you didn't get the Yates Family Christmas Card by email, the fault is entirely mine. Please contact me so I can get you on that list.

And to friends now and friends yet to be, here's my wish for you and yours to have a wonderful 2011.


Wikileaks Shows Generational Divide (And a Startup Lesson)

The whole Wikileaks event is fascinating on so many levels. There's been ton's of great coverage. I've read lots of it, but there's one thing that hasn't really been said: This seems like essentially a generational issue, yet another sign that the world is changing fast and the Hey-man-let's-change-the-world Boomers are the ones standing in the way of history.

Let me explain.

For all the hand-wringing, the actual upshot of the leaks has been... zilch. No covert operatives have been frogmarched down the streets of Moscow or Beijing. No foreign secretaries have been sacked.

(In the funniest tweet I've seen in a long time, my old Spy Magazine colleague Nell Scovell said: "WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange thinks Hillary Clinton should resign. Does he know NOTHING about the Clintons???")

Clinton, of course, will not resign and neither will anyone else. If anyone was harmed even a little, all the governments and journalists so outraged about the leaks would point to that harm as an example of why the leaks are so dangerous. They've got nothing.

The only reason they are so upset is that they like keeping their little secrets. It makes them feel important. So far, however, the leaks show that the government of Russia is corrupt (Say it aint so!) and in most cases that diplomats have done a pretty good job. If all this stuff hadn't been leaked information, this "news" would be classified as "not news."

How is all this related to startups? I recently saw a presentation from one of the best startup guys working these days: Eric Ries. Ries is an advocate of taking the absolute minimum product that you can create and putting it on the web so you can see if and how people will use it. Then you learn your lessons, iterate quickly and keep moving. Someone asked him how it was possible to do this without alerting your competition to what it is you are doing.

Reis' answer was spot-on. In essence, he said that your competition is just busy trying to do whatever it is they are doing, and really won't be paying much attention to what a startup is trying to do in the same space. He said that you could actually take all the code you've written and send it to your closest competitor, and the chances are that they really wouldn't know what to do with it. So don't worry about them, Ries said, worry about your biggest challenge, which is to just do a good job of figuring out what your customers want and providing it to them.

So it is with all these "secrets" that are now out. They are only secret because of the legacy of the positions the people hold who are doing the communicating.

That's why I say this is a generational issue. People over 45 or so have this assumption that all communication is private. Gen Xers and younger -- the people who regularly post on the 'net where they are eating lunch -- understand that all communication is essentially public.

The reason there's been so much handwringing among the older parts of the media is that they liked the world back in the day when they, and they alone, would get to see all the private stuff and publicize it when they felt that it was interesting. The gatekeepers are just not that useful any more. What's useful is a search engine that allows anyone interested to find what they are looking for.

For those of you keeping score at home, gatekeepers are the Boomers, and search engines are from Gen X.

The person who allegedly provided all those cables to Wikileaks? A kid. The one calling for that kid to be executed? A presidential candidate, a boomer, who cloaks himself in Christianity. (Hypocrisy infects all generations, but its most friendly host is the Baby Boomer.)

So just remember these two things: First, if you really want something to be private, don't put it on the 'net. Second, ask yourself why you want it to be private. Chances are that if you try to keep it private, it will just make really boring stuff that much more sensational.